KYIV, Ukraine — Russia pounded Ukraine’s energy facilities on Wednesday, as missiles rocked Kyiv and other cities, plunging large areas of the nation into darkness, shutting down water systems and cutting off power in half the neighboring country of Moldova.
The attack was the widest since Nov. 15, when 100 missiles and drones rained down, and among the most devastating of the entire war.
The blasts sent plumes of smoke into the skies as Ukrainian air defense systems worked to shoot down incoming rockets that Moscow has been aiming at energy installations for weeks in an effort to break Ukrainians’ will by depriving them of light and heat in the winter months.
“We have confirmation of hits on critical infrastructure facilities in several regions,” the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said in a statement.
From Lviv in the west to Dnipro and Odesa in the south and Kharkiv in the northeast, officials reported interruptions in electricity, water and other key services during the latest wave of assaults by Russia aimed at disabling Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and leaving its people in the cold and darkness. Winter weather has already set in, with subfreezing temperatures and snow across much of the country.
“The weather we have been preparing for and dreading is now upon the people of Ukraine,” Rosemary A. DiCarlo, a United Nations under secretary general, told the Security Council Wednesday at an emergency meeting called by Ukraine.
The day’s barrage killed at least 10 people and injured dozens, government officials said, while Ukraine’s air defenses shot down 51 of 70 Russian cruise missiles and five drones.
“This is the Russian formula of terror,” President Volodymyr Zelensky told the U.N. Security Council by video link. He added, “This is an obvious crime against humanity.”
He decried once again the council’s structure, which gives Russia and four other member nations veto power.
“In your midst you have representatives of a state that does not offer anything but terror, instability and disinformation,” Mr. Zelensky told the Security Council. “This is a dead end, when the instigator of this war, when the party responsible for this terror, is blocking any attempt on behalf of the security council to exercise its mandate.”
The State of the War
- Dnipro River: A volunteer Ukrainian special forces team has been conducting secret raids under the cover of darkness traveling across the strategic waterway, which has become the dividing line of the southern front.
- Evacuation Plans: The Ukrainian government is preparing to help evacuate residents from the southern cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv, where shattered infrastructure has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis when winter sets in.
- A Race to Rebuild: Ukrainian attempts to stabilize some of the country’s battered electricity supply and make a dent in the seemingly endless task of demining swaths of the country offered a glimpse into the Herculean effort that lies ahead off the battlefield.
- Visual Investigation: Videos circulating on social media have ignited a debate over whether Ukrainian forces committed war crimes or acted in self-defense as they tried to capture a group of Russian soldiers who were then killed. Here’s what we know.
The Russian ambassador, Vasily A. Nebenzya, blamed Ukraine and the NATO powers arming it, “conducting a proxy war with Russia,” for the damage to Ukrainian cities. He said Mr. Zelensky should not be allowed to address the council except in person, and — ignoring that Russia was the aggressor in the war — defended his country’s conduct.
“To weaken and destroy the military potential of our opponents, we are conducting strikes with precision weapons against energy and other infrastructure, which is used for the purpose of military supplies to Ukrainian units,” he said.
The damage has been widespread. Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said Wednesday that “one of the capital’s infrastructure facilities has been hit,” causing power outages throughout the city and the wider Kyiv region. He said water supplies were knocked out in all of Kyiv.
Lviv, which to date has largely escaped the destruction visited on other Ukrainian cities, lost power entirely. “The whole city is without light,” said its mayor, Andriy Sadovyi. “We are waiting for additional information from energy experts. There may be interruptions with water supply.”
While attention has focused for months on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, two more nuclear power plants came under fire on Wednesday, causing them to shut down some units. But officials with Ukrenergo, the country’s energy agency, said that neither of the plants, the Khmelnytskyi facility in western Ukraine and the Pivdennoukrainsk plant in the south, was in immediate danger.
Almost no thermal and hydroelectric power plants remain undamaged after waves of Russian strikes aimed at energy infrastructure in recent months, according to the head of Ukraine’s national electricity grid.
“The scale of the destruction is colossal,” Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of Ukrenergo, told a news conference on Tuesday.
Moscow’s effort to plunge the nation into darkness and freezing conditions has already forced the national utility to implement controlled but extensive rolling blackouts, leaving nearly everyone in the country without power for between 4 to 12 hours a day.
In the town of Vilniansk, in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, a missile struck a hospital maternity ward overnight, killing a newborn boy and injuring his mother, the Ukrainian authorities said on Wednesday. In video and photos posted online by officials, emergency workers pulled the boy’s mother and a doctor from the wreckage of the two-story building, and dug with their hands to rescue a man buried waist-deep in the rubble.
“Grief fills our hearts,” Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the regional administration, said on the Telegram messaging app.
“Putin’s motive could not be more clear and more coldblooded,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador, told the U.N. Security Council. “He is clearly, clearly weaponizing winter to inflict immense suffering on the Ukrainian people. He has decided if he can’t seize Ukraine by force, he will freeze the country into submission.”
In Vyshhorod, a suburb of Kyiv, Volodymyr Sveytny, 19, said he was working on his studies Wednesday when he heard air defense systems firing into the sky. Looking out a window, he saw a winged cruise missile streak over his neighborhood and into a multistory residential complex, where it detonated. The explosion turned sidewalks for blocks around into a treacherous mix of ice, snow and broken glass, and hours later, firefighters were still trying to douse the resulting blazes.
The blast shattered one of Mr. Sveytny’s apartment windows, and he immediately set to work patching it over. “When the power goes out, heat goes out, too,” he explained.
Mr. Zelensky announced a national drive called “Points of Invincibility” to prepare thousands of makeshift centers to provide basic services in the event of prolonged blackouts.
“If massive Russian strikes take place again and if there is an understanding that the electricity supply cannot be restored within hours, the work of ‘Points of Invincibility’ will be activated,” he told the nation in his nightly address on Tuesday.
“All basic services will be there,” he said, including electricity, mobile communications, internet access, heat, water, and first-aid supplies.
In the central city of Dnipro, traffic lights went dark and buses stopped after explosions were heard near the city at around 2:30 p.m. An hour before that, at least one cruise missile was seen flying north of the city.
Subway service was halted and people were being evacuated from underground trains after a power outage in the city of Kharkiv, said the mayor, Ihor Terekhov.
Moldova, Ukraine’s western neighbor whose Soviet-era electricity systems remain interconnected with Ukraine’s, was experiencing “massive power outages across the country,” the country’s infrastructure minister, Andrei Spinu, wrote on Facebook.
While Moscow is running low on precision cruise missiles, according to Ukraine and its allies, Ukrainian intelligence reports suggest the Kremlin still has enough in its arsenal to carry out attacks of a scale rivaling the Nov. 15 attack “three or four more times.”
At a hilltop cemetery in Kyiv, Serhiy Myronov, a Ukrainian soldier who was recently killed in action, was being buried when the first explosions rang out. A crowd of more than 100 people waiting to throw dirt into the grave looked up into the sky.
“Air defenses,” one woman said.
A two-story residential building was also hit, according to the Kyiv City Military Administration, and at least one person died.
Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said that the aerial attacks on energy infrastructure are a part of a “malign strategy” by Russia, which has been pushed back into defensive positions in the south and northeast after Ukrainian forces reclaimed around 55 percent of the territory occupied by Moscow during the early months of the war. Russia remains on the attack toward one eastern city, Bakhmut.
“Their goal is obvious: to cause a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe, to provoke another refugee crisis in Europe,” Mr. Yermak said in a statement. “It’s either force Ukraine to make peace or force the West to force Ukraine to make peace.”
Pope Francis on Wednesday leveled one of his strongest condemnations yet against Russia’s invasion, comparing Moscow’s attacks on civilian targets to the “terrible genocide” of the 1930s in Ukraine, when the policies of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin caused a devastating famine.
“Let us pray for peace in the world, and for an end to all conflicts, with a special thought for the terrible suffering of the dear and martyred people of Ukraine,” he said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Mr. Zelensky on Tuesday said it was clear that Russia was aiming “to turn the cold of winter into a weapon of mass destruction.”
He encouraged people in towns and cities across the country to go to a government website, nezlamnist.gov.ua, to find one of the 4,000 planned centers for basic services nearest their home.
People working at the centers, he said, would be able to direct residents to the nearest gas station, bank, pharmacy and grocery store in the event of a blackout.
“All of us must be prepared for any scenario,” he said. “I am sure: by helping each other, we will all be able to get through this winter together.”
In addition to the “Points of Invincibility” — its name meant to promote Ukrainian solidarity and courage — municipal workers in Kyiv are setting up 1,000 heating shelters that can double as bunkers for hundreds of people, stocked with essential supplies to last more than a week. Similar efforts are underway in towns and cities around the nation.
In parts of the country recently reclaimed from retreating Russian forces, including the southern city of Kherson, the damage to infrastructure is so severe that Ukraine’s government is helping residents evacuate to other parts of the country, and urging those who fled earlier in the war not to return yet. But Ukrainian officials have emphasized that there is no need for a broader evacuation.
“I believe that the call for a mass departure of Ukrainians abroad is currently inappropriate,” Mr. Kudrytskyi said.
In a largely symbolic move, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to label Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
Marc Santora reported from Kyiv and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Dnipro, Ukraine. Natalia Yermak contributed reporting from Dnipro.